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South African coal truck drivers protest over renewables, plan march …

Coal is loaded onto a truck at the Woestalleen colliery near Middleburg in Mpumalanga province, September 8, 2015. REUTERS/Siphiwe Sibeko

March 1, 2017

JOHANNESBURG (Reuters) – Several coal transporting trucks blocked highways in South Africa’s capital on Monday to protest against the country’s renewable power program after President Jacob Zuma showed support for the sector in speech to parliament last month.

Zuma’s directive has angered coal transporting workers, who said the signing of renewable energy contracts will lead to 30,000 job losses in the coal industry. Coal is used to generate the lion’s share of power generated in South Africa.

Job cuts are a thorny issue in Africa’s most industrialized country where the unemployment rate is almost 27 percent, and are a big concern for companies faced with labor disputes.

In a speech on Feb. 10, Zuma said state-owned utility Eskom will sign new power purchase agreements for renewable energy. Producers of solar and wind power have been putting pressure on the utility to sign the deals.

Industry experts have said Eskom has been signing new contracts to buy renewable energy at a slower pace after power supply in the country stabilized last year, following shortages in 2015 that led to power cuts across the country.

“We are against the signing of the independent power producer program,” said Coal Transportation Forum spokeswoman Mary Phadi. “All the mines that are producing coal are going to be affected and the power stations will be forced to shut down.”

Phadi said about 2,000 protesters in the sector were expected to march to the capital’s Union Buildings, where Zuma’s offices are located.

Eskom’s acting Chief Executive Officer Matshela Koko said the utility will not be renewing contracts of coal transporters supplying coal to Eskom.

“Effectively we’re seeing Eskom using less and less coal because of surplus capacity, negative energy growth and ongoing boarding of the renewable IPPs,” Koko said on Talk Radio 702.

Eskom said it had signed a coal agreement with the truck drivers that would expire in May, 2018 but that this would not be renewed. The utility said the trucks only supply a portion of its coal, most of which is transported to its power plants from mines through conveyer belts and by rail.

(Reporting by Nqobile Dludla and Tanisha Heiberg; Editing by James Macharia and Louise Heavens)

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